The Volokh Conspiracy

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Religion and the Law

May Missouri Shooting Range Discriminate Against Muslims?

That's the issue raised by a newly filed federal lawsuit.


The Complaint filed today in Barakat v. Brown (W.D. Mo.) alleges that a shooting range was indeed doing that:

[21.] Frontier Justice imposes a discriminatory headwear ban that prohibits, "Hats, caps, bandanas or any other head covering…except baseball caps facing forward." (Frontier Justice Membership and Range Rules – Dress Code). Exhibit A.

[22.] Consistent with Defendant Mike and Bren Brown's instructions and their headwear ban, in numerous instances since at least 2016, Defendants have denied Muslims who wear hijab entry to Frontier Justice, based on violations of their dress code policy, while allowing similarly situated individuals who wear headcaps or other clothing that similarly covers the neck and head to enter their facility and access to their services.

If the policy was indeed just a pretext for discriminating against Muslims (even if only some Muslims), or was otherwise discriminatorily enforced against Muslims, that would probably indeed violate the public accommodations provision of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, though that's not completely clear. The Act applies to only particular classes of businesses:

Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of this subchapter if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action:

(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence;

(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station; [and]

(3) any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment ….

The category under which gun ranges might be covered is "place[s] of exhibition or entertainment." Daniel v. Paul (1969) held that this term includes "recreational areas" and not just places for spectators to watch events (as in the theaters, concert halls, and stadiums that are listed in the same subsection); United States v. DeRosier (5th Cir. 1971) likewise held that a bar qualified because of the presence of a "juke box, shuffle board and pool table for the use and enjoyment of the bar's patrons." Query whether a shooting range would be viewed as different because it's partly (largely? principally?) focused on practical training and not on "entertainment" as such.

[2.] Missouri antidiscrimination law is broader, and does cover shooting ranges that are generally open to the public (emphasis added):

"Places of public accommodation" [means] all places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public, goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages or accommodations for the peace, comfort, health, welfare and safety of the general public or such public places providing food, shelter, recreation and amusement, including, but not limited to:

(a) Any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests …;

(b) Any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, [or] soda fountain …;

(c) Any gasoline station, including all facilities located on the premises of such gasoline station and made available to the patrons thereof;

(d) Any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment …..

So if this is a range that most members of the "general public" can just go into and use —as opposed to a "private club," which is exempted from the law—then the owner is legally barred from discriminating among patrons based on religion (or various other attributes). But I believe that, to take advantage of this state statute, the plaintiff must first file a complaint before the Missouri Commission on Human Rights; here, the plaintiff decided to go directly to federal court under the federal statute, which it can do without first filing such a complaint.

I leave to others the moral rights or wrongs of such antidiscrimination laws; what I have to offer is the legal analysis, and here it is.